Tag Archives: writing tools

Snacks for Every Writing Project: Plotting Polenta Diamonds

Woo hoo, life is grand! My plan was to do comfort food recipes to help survive those rejection letters but I’m in too good a mood today!

Last week I finished a heavy duty Paranormal Romance rewrite. Of course, this doesn’t mean things are quiet and calm, not by a long shot. This week I’ve begun a number of new projects. I’m querying the finished book and researching a series of non-fiction books while plotting a new Woman’s Literature novel I’ve been antsy to write. This can make a girl exhausted and I need to keep up my strength, right?

I love wonderful homemade things that I can just pop in my mouth while working at the computer. Yes, cookies and candies are easy but sometimes I just want something savory.

This is a recipe I developed when I was a chef in a country club back east. We were looking for a substitute for fresh made crackers or bread to accompany some of our signature luncheon salads and I remembered my mom always pushing polenta on us. My siblings and I hated the stuff, we called it “mush”, but it had the starchy qualities I needed to fill the bill. Polenta is like a blank canvas too, it lends itself to any flavor profile I needed so I started making savory Polenta Diamonds and they were a hit.

Of course now that I’m no longer slaving in a hot professional kitchen and get to sit at this keyboard to create, problem solve and write all day, I like to call these my Plotting Polenta Diamonds. I make them when I’m beginning the plotting process, season them to match the genre I’m working on, and like comfort food, they instantly put me in the mood to rock and roll with a plot to die for! Hope they do the same for you!

Savory “Plotting” Polenta Diamonds

2 C Milk

1 C Water

1 ½ C Yellow Cornmeal

½ tsp Salt

½ C Parmesan Cheese

¼ tsp Garlic Powder

1 tsp Minced Fresh Rosemary

¼ C Olive Oil

Bring milk and water just to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Slowly add cornmeal, stirring constantly. Add salt and lower heat. Continue stirring until polenta thickens, (this is kinda like roasting a turkey, it can be done quickly, or take a while). Stir in the parmesan cheese, garlic powder and rosemary.  Remove from heat.

Cool for a few moments then spread mixture ½ inch thick into a baking tray with a spatula and your fingers. Chill overnight. Slice into diamonds about 1 ½ ” wide by 2 ½” long.  Brush both sides with olive oil and sprinkle with S&P. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, turning the diamonds over halfway through. YUM!


For plotting a YA adventure, Lemon Garlic Plotting Polenta Diamondssubstitute ½ tsp lemon zest for rosemary.

For plotting a Spicy Romance, Caliente Plotting Polenta Diamondssubstitute ½ tsp chili powder for the rosemary and dip the Diamonds in picante sauce.

For plotting a Romantic Comedy, Counterpoint Plotting Polenta Diamondseliminate the Parmesan and substitute ½ tsp dried tarragon for rosemary.

For plotting a Historic Romance, Mama Mia Plotting Polenta Diamondseliminate the rosemary, and add 1 minced roasted red pepper plus an additional ¼ C parmesan cheese.

For plotting a Murder Mystery, Red Herring Plotting Polenta Diamondssubstitute Old Bay Seasoning for the rosemary and sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese on top before baking.

Enjoy! Next week: Comfort food snacks to survive the rejections … maybe … if I’m in the mood.

The Correct POV

by Sascha Illyvich 

eye-care2Do you know which POV your story is told in?  Do you know the correct Point of View your story SHOULD be written from?  If you answer first or third person POV, you’re obviously being a smart ass.  Let’s rephrase the question, shall we?  

What character’s point of view should my story be told in? 

There, this defines the question better.  And the answer is simple.  The main character’s POV.  But what if you have two characters?  Presumably a Hero and a Heroine, since this is Romance I’m mainly covering, let’s stick with that assumption.  What if you have a villain?  Do we tell any of the story from that character’s perspective? 

Many writers assume that during major scene changes, the perspective should change.  They’re half correct.  A lot of writers suggest that we need to know about the villain if there is one, and that character should get a say too.  Again, they’re half right. 

The truth is, POV is simple.  Tell the story from the Point of View of the character that has the most to lose.  

What do I mean by that?  Let’s break it down.  In a typical romance novel, we have the hero and heroine and a plot that runs something like this: 

Hero meets Heroine (hey you’re hot)

Hero and Heroine end up in bed (light cigar/cigarette)

Argument separates the two (God he’s a jerk/she’s a bitch)

And in the end, something happens that is greater than both the Hero and Heroine’s issues that makes them examine their beliefs and realize they need the other.

Let’s figure this out (I need you/I love you)

HEA/Happily for Now 

Throw in a villain and that character’s appearance should be before or during the cigar in the above example.  Considering that much of today’s erotic romance is paranormal or urban fantasy, there is a bad guy waiting to kill off both Hero/Heroine. 

So what determines whose point of view the story is told from? This is also easy.  For the story to flow without head hopping, let’s use a simple rule of thumb (courtesy of Morgan Hawke www.darkerotica.net

IF the story is under 20k, you simply need ONE character where the event happens to THEM and ONLY them.  

IF the story is under 40k, then we have an event that affects two characters.  

IF the story is under 100k, we have three characters who get a say, usually because the villain is the one doing shit to the world/universe—including the H/H.  

Now that we’ve narrowed that down and fixed the potential to head hop all over the place, thus eliminating characters that are central but not integral for POV purposes, we’re left with the one question:  

Who gets to talk? 

Readers get attached to characters they care about and have built relationships with, just as in reality.  Kill off a favorite character from your reader base and you’d better believe you’re going to hear about it!  Alter that character’s world somehow and again, you’ll get feedback.  But what if the hero and heroine both have something to lose?  Then what do you do? 

Refer back to length of the story.  Who has the greatest loss, and the greatest gain?  Write from THAT one character’s POV and ONLY change scenes if word length allows for it and only if that character’s journey makes us feel something universal.  

I recently read a story where head hopping occurred so much because the writer thought to write scenes like we see in TV.  Take Burn Notice for example:  We have Michael Westin, (The hero) Fiona (Heroine) and all the side characters, most notably the drunk former CIA op who we get to see frequently.  POV switches don’t really occur much because the story is narrated by Michael Westin, but when we do get those changes, Westin is still narrating. That works because people need to see a lot of visuals and TV/movies allow for those shifts to occur. The average attention span is not that long.  

But FICTION writing doesn’t.  You’ll end up with unsmooth transitions, annoying head hopping issues that make the reader THROW YOUR BOOK THE FUCK AWAY!  

In FICTION, you do two things.  You show the reader what YOU want them to see; otherwise they’ll see something else.  And you make the story smooth.  By sticking to word limit/reason for changes, you’ll eliminate guesswork in your plotting. 

Some writers can get away with multiple POV changes.  Sherrylin Kenyon for example can, she has a built in audience that somehow doesn’t care about the change from the H/H to Ash or Stryker.  So does Laurel K. Hamilton, but because she writes in First Person POV, she doesn’t have that ability.  But if she wrote in third person, she could afford to change because she’s ESTABLISHED.  Chances are, you’re not them. (And if you are, thanks for reading my article!) 

Christine Feehan does an excellent job of keeping the POV between her hero and heroine.  So does Richelle Mead. And Rebecca York.  Those authors are authors who don’t write what I do, but I learn from them because they’re where I hope to be someday.  

To reinforce the key points, I’ll leave with my two rules for simplification.

  1. Tell the story from the character’s POV that has the MOST to lose
  2. Use word length 20k = 1 character.  40k, 2 characters.  60k-100k+=3 and ONLY three. 

That should simplify things in your stories.  Happy writing! 

Sascha Illyvich


Listen to The UnNamed Romance Show Mondays at 1 PM PST and Thursdays at 3 PM PST on www.radiodentata.com – hear from Sascha as he shares his work along with interviewing the hottest authors in today’s romance

Deconstruction … The Ultimate Writers Tool?

Like many of you, I’ve written a novel. Well, several novels, but I have one in an extremely marketable genre with all the bells and whistles. The query letter knocks agents’ socks off and most I query ask for the manuscript … and it hasn’t gone any further than that so far. Sigh …

The problem with the process is that agents simply don’t have the time (or the responsibility) to tell us why our work is rejected, short of the standard comments. “Not right for our agency” or “Not interested at this time” is absolutely no help. Of course, I understand how overworked and pressed these people are to find only the most profitable possibilities where taking on an author is concerned. But all too often the discouragement can be devastating.

Nope, this isn’t a blog about sticking it out and never giving up. It’s an entry about finding a solution.

I watch Top Chef. Being a retired chef, I love the show for a variety of reasons, but oddly enough, last night’s show crossed over into a new and different look at my novel. The contestants were challenged with taking a traditional recipe and deconstructing it. The goal is that the diner tours the various ingredients on the plate and when they’ve eaten it all, they get the flavor and emotion evoked by the original, calssic recipe. That made me wonder; is it time to deconstruct and rebuild my novel? In pondering this concept, I realized that I have already explored several possible tools to do just that, all I need to do is put them to work.

Here’s what I mean …

  1. Get a Mentor. Seriously. If you don’t have a mentor you really are floundering in the dark. Get a mentor but not just any mentor, a great mentor! Someone who knows not only how to write very, very well and sell their work, but also understands your genre. Having a mentor and using that mentor are two different things. Listening means nothing unless you put the advice into action. Yes it takes a little time to trust someone, especially if they tell you something that directly contradicts what you imagine was important and vital to the story. My best advice? Bite the bullet, swallow your ego and try. You always keep your original work, so where’s the harm in testing a suggestion? You’re no worse for the attempt and chances are, your work will be far better for it. Everything I learned from my mentor falls under the category of Deconstruction and Rebuilding.
  2. Back Story. Maybe you have a prolog or perhaps your book starts with something you feel sets the tone or tells a part of the story a reader may not understand. In many cases, opening a novel with back story simply slows it to a crawl. Not a good thing if your goal is to trap a reader in your imaginative lair and hold them there through 300+ pages. Remove the back story and plant it carefully within the text of your story, preferably within action/dialog scenes.
  3. The Dreaded Head Hopping Curse. Good gravy, I learned so much about this in one simple statement from my mentor, it made my own head spin. It’s one thing to have a sharp eye against incorrectly shifting POV, but head hopping is another nasty animal all together. It’s not something a writer should never do, but it is something a writer must do carefully. The key is to be inside the RIGHT head. It’s far simpler than I originally thought and here’s the trick. An event should always come from inside the head of the character who has the most to lose in that scene. Well DUH. If you’re anything like me, you have several scenes that should be rewritten this way to create a far more powerful story, scene by scene.
  4. Twenty-five Reasons, All in a Row. When starting a novel, everyone, even Dan Brown, gets caught up with the exciting energy of writing. Somewhere in the process we all step back and ask, “Where are we going? What was the point again?” Many authors have no issues working blind; they have an inner compass that pulls them from A to Z. Many of us aren’t quite like that. Some of us outline, some mind map, some make charts and graphs. All that is way too time consuming for me. Then someone told me an easy trick to getting started. (After all, getting started is the point, right? Can’t finish without beginning.) Here’s the coolest tool I’ve learned in a long time. Sit down and write twenty-five sentences on separate lines that basically tell your story from beginning to end. It may only take ten, it may take thirty, but get from start to finish in simple statements. There. Now you have a prompt for each and every chapter, in order and clearly guiding you through the conflicts and climax of your novel. Neat, huh?
  5. Co-Stars and Supporting Cast. Do you have a habit of falling in love with your supporting characters too? Sometimes a character is so much fun to write we tend to float that way, making the character more important than s/he needs to be and unfortunately, throwing the story off keel. I have a few I should seriously back off with, but there are also a few who are planned for the next book in the series, so approaching the supporting characters thoughtfully is major. If my reader falls in love with a secondary character because I unintentionally led them that way and that character has no real importance … the story suffers. I think this falls under the category of “kill your babies”. Painful but necessary.
  6. Get Readers and Listen to Them. Again, listening and doing something about what’s being said is two different things. In my mind, if a reader (friend, family member or crit buddy) asks a question about a character or event and I have to give a ten minute explanation … something just isn’t right with the manuscript. I do have a policy though, I wait until the reader has read and made notes on the whole manuscript before I begin addressing those questions. It saves me a little anguish during the process. It helps more to hear “you foreshadowed, “or “this came out of left field” than, “where’s this going?” before they’ve read the next page. Either way, it’s vital to hear what readers find cumbersome or misleading and do something about it.
  7. Set a Timeline. Yes, you need all the input you can get in order to begin a deconstruction and rebuilding process, but set a time limit for gathering that information. Continually thinking that one more reader or one more mentor should be found before you begin the work falls under that bad category of Procrastination. We writers are real good at that. Procrastination evolves into writers block then we’re screwed, big time. So determine a finite deadline for collecting as many well focused comments as you can gather then just do it. Put your head down and fingers to the keyboard, dismantle the entire book and make the changes.
  8. After the Rebuilding? Exactly, what happens next? It seems it will depend on the writer. For me, I’ll go back to my mentor and readers for a review of the changes. If it seems positive, I’ll begin the query process again.  It’ll be finger-crossing and nail-biting time here in my little home office but that’s what it’s all about. And in the process of deconstructing and rebuilding, I will have become a sharper writer. I’m game, D-day for the Deconstruct is tomorrow.
  9. Setting the Goal. One month is my goal. November 1, 2009. The rebuilding will be finished and polished by then and I’ll be moving ahead.

Um … pray for me, everyone. Now, where did I put those work gloves?